The Soul of "Chain Gang" Singer Revealed in Sam Cooke: Forever Mr. Soul

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09 Dec 2006

Lawrence Stallings as Sam Cooke
Lawrence Stallings as Sam Cooke
Carol H. Feeley
Sam Cooke: Forever Mr. Soul, the new musical charting the songs and short life of Sam Cooke, the singer-writer who gave voice to "Chain Gang," "Cupid," "Wonderful World," officially opens Dec. 9 at Delaware Theatre Company.

Playwright-director Kevin Ramsey stages the world premiere Sam Cooke: Forever Mr. Soul, which began previews Dec. 6, at the Wilmington, DE, theatre. Performances continue to Dec. 24.

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Forever Mr. Soul had a developmental workshop production at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre earlier this fall.

The world premiere work "delves into the life and musical accomplishments of Sam Cooke," according to DTC. It "brings to life the spirit and talent of the legendary musical genius, leading audiences through the soul of Sam Cooke's recordings, while recanting the tale of his tragically short life."



Born Sam Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1931 (later adding the "e" as a note of sophistication), he was one of eight children of the Rev. Charles Cook. The family moved to the south side of Chicago. Once there, Sam and his other siblings began performing in the Rev. Cook-inspired family group, the Singing Children. As a teenager, he became a member of yet another gospel group, the Highway QCs, followed shortly thereafter by the renowned Soul Stirrers, where he rose to gospel stardom.

He would cross over to secular music and had hits with "You Send Me," "Wonderful World," "Cupid," "Chain Gang," "Another Saturday Night," "Twistin' the Night Away," "Having a Party" and "A Change Is Gonna Come."

According to DTC, "His astute business savvy was apparent in his accomplishment as owner of his own SAR's record label, music publishing companies and his deal with RCA/Victor, which guaranteed him ownership of his publishing rights."

He was shot to death Dec. 11, 1964, in a motel room. He was 33.

Actor-singer Lawrence Stallings makes his DTC debut playing Cooke. Recently, Stallings performed the role of Youth in The Public Theater's workshop presentation of Passing Strange, a co-production with Berkeley Rep. Other credits include From My Hometown, Trippin': The Musical, Death and the King's Horsemen, Seven Guitars, Life Is a Dream, Sparkle: The Musical, Purlie Victorious and The Amen Corner. Stallings is a native of Detroit, MI. He is a graduate of Morehouse College and holds an M.F.A. in acting from Temple University.

Playwright-director Kevin Ramsey choreographed DTC's Winter Wonderettes last season and served as the co-producer/director/writer on the award-winning short film "Tap Rap," starring Savion Glover, as well as directing and co-choreographing the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway R&B musical From My Hometown. Broadway credits include Cy Coleman's The Life, Five Guys Named Moe, Oh, Kay and Black and Blue.

C.S. Treadway is the play's Voice of the Radio.

The production team for Sam Cooke: Forever Mr. Soul includes Alva Nelson (musical director), Matthew Myhrum (scenic/projection designer), Janus Stefanowicz (costume designer), Troy A. Martin-O'Shia (lighting designer), Ryan W. Powers (sound designer) and Sara J. Tantillo (stage manager).

For more information, visit www.delawaretheatre.org.